North Wall Design & Construction Works

St. Lawrence Church was placed on the English Heritage 2007 ‘Buildings at Risk’ Register. In March 2007 the PCC was advised by the Engineers that the urgency of addressing this problem was now so great that work must start within two years. 

With the help of a grant from English Heritage, Stage 1 Project Development was undertaken in 2008

A number of alternative schemes were evaluated during this process. Initially we were endeavouring to support the wall ‘invisibly’ by inserting vertical reinforcement beams within the wall itself  with horizontal underground beams linking up with piles in the churchyard. This solution proved to be very expensive. It would also be subject to unpredictable cost escalation when we excavated the pre-1860 graveyard and found articulated skeletons. 

Meanwhile we were aware of several references to a Victorian painting purporting to show more than three buttresses on the north side. This painting had not been seen by anyone currently involved although it was referred to in the 1968 Quinquennial. A photograph of the painting came to light in the re-catalogued archives of the Warkworth History Society who had put on a display in church in Summer 2008. The original painting has not been located.

Once we had sight of this copy of the 1837 Painting by R T Atkinson, the decision was rapidly made to change course, replace the two missing buttresses and strengthen the two existing westerly ones. The small eastern buttress does not require any extra support. It was decided not to attempt to reconstruct the porch since there is no requirement to reopen the north doorway which has been blocked up for centuries. 

We have included a fascinating print of the south aspect of the church from about the same date above. Note lower pitched roof and the outline of an earlier one, the clerestory windows and the large single window at the east end. All these features were changed in the 1860 remodelling of the church said by then to be ‘in a ruinous state’.

Construction Works

Following a tender process in late 2008, Historic Property Restoration Ltd of North Shields (who carried out the Project 1 work) was appointed Main Contractor. We achieved the 2 year timeframe recommended and HPR commenced work on 23rd March 2009 with a nineteen week programme which comprised:

External:

  • Excavation of the areas to be worked on and reburial by the Vicar of the eight articulated skeletons identified during stage 1 investigations.
  • Piling for two new buttresses (Nos 3 & 4 from west) and No 2 existing buttress.
  • Drilling & insertion of ‘Cintec’ Anchors into Nos 1 & 2 existing buttresses
  • Construction of Pile Caps
  • Building of two new reinforced buttresses (Nos 3 & 4) clad in suitable stonework
  • Installation of a wall-head beam between buttress No 2 (existing) and No 3 (new) to stiffen the wall instead of reinstating the porch. 

Internal:

  • Carry out repairs to south aisle ‘consequential damage’ to beams and roof.
  • Roof repairs in baptistry and nave over the organ to prevent water ingress due to movement of north wall.
Additional work carried out inside church in preparation for Project 4 (see below):
  • Relocated the font at the crossing to improve family and congregation’s participation in baptisms now almost always celebrated during public services
  • Raised the level of the floor in former baptistery to that of the nave and aisle. This removes a serious trip hazard and makes the space more useful for visitor welcome and church events.
  • Concrete floor has been laid in area to be occupied by the planned servery.
  • Relocated spare radiators elsewhere in the church building.
Exciting incidents and finds during the building programme:
  • Section of pre-conquest foundations beneath No 4 buttress – piles repositioned to preserve this for the future.
  • Piling operation hit water at 18 metres and produced a dramatic water & mud geyser.
  • Void above south aisle ceiling behind and above arcade between the pitched 15c wooden ceiling and sloping outer lead covered roof.
  • Wooden wall-head beam discovered near top of north wall that had been restored in 1860. This linked in with full depth wooden corbels. This discovery necessitated a change of design to our planned concrete beam.
  • Chimney within the thickness of north wall found whilst repairing the blocked up doorway – this explains the apparent vanishing of the up flue in the 1837 picture.

Conclusion:

  • The contract was completed on time by the end of July 2009.
  • St Lawrence Church will soon be removed from the ‘Buildings at Risk’ Register which will be a fine tribute to the success of this huge and long outstanding project.

Funding 

Stage 1 (project development) of this project cost £72,000 of which English Heritage generously contributed £25,000 in 2008.

Stage 2 (construction) of this project cost £240,000.

English Heritage has awarded us a further grant of £138,000 making a total grant of £163,000. 

The balance of the cost of this project has been raised from other Grant Agencies, some generous individual donations and a huge effort by parishioners, local folk and businesses.